My Instagram tour of North Korea

By Anna Doble
Newsbeat online editor

Image source, Taylor Pemberton

Taylor Pemberton has just spent four days in North Korea, the secretive military state said to be preparing for war with its neighbour South Korea.

The 26-year-old from Minneapolis in the US flew into Pyongyang from Beijing in China.

And he documented his trip with a series of fascinating photographs which he later posted on Instagram.

He was constantly monitored but, away from the parades and flags, managed to capture images of everyday life.

Image source, Taylor Pemberton
Image caption,
The visa Taylor was granted a week before he entered the secretive nation

On arrival tourists must declare any communication devices, any art or literature or even food.

"My cameras, memory cards, and phones were screened on entry," he told Newsbeat.

"You are told when to wake up, when meals are available, and when your day is coming to an end," Taylor explained.

"You're also strictly informed when it's OK/not OK to take photos.

"Each night you're granted 'leisure time' but you're limited to roaming inside your hotel that's strategically placed on an island."

There is no internet in North Korea and Taylor told Newsbeat that locals he talked to simply weren't aware of the concept.

Tourist guides who interact with foreigners "know a few details but are basically unaware of the magnitude the internet brings to popular culture," Taylor explained.

The country only has an "intranet" of resources provided by the government.

Taylor planned his trip around Liberation Day which is a massive celebration that includes a series of choreographed mass dances and festivities.

Despite the restrictions on Taylor's movement he says he did see evidence of the poverty and hardship faced by many citizens.

"The food provided to us was luxury compared to the boiled rice and cabbage which I was told is common in even privileged life.

"I saw a fruit basket that would be instantly discarded in the States.

"Every balcony has solar panels to suggest electricity isn't widely available."

But chatting to any ordinary people was almost impossible.

"I felt ignored when trying to wave, smile, or interact with locals. Some people reciprocate but it was nothing like other far away cultures."

Taylor said that only in the capital's station "you had the opportunity to be in a contained space with the Pyongyang locals, North Korea's ultra-privileged".

He was accompanied by a liaison officer who was "very friendly and laid back" at the same time as enforcing an itinerary which saw them mostly visit monuments, museums and military zones.

"While I was in North Korea, a new time zone was established," Taylor noted.

"From what we were told, this was an effort to further identify as an independent nation, one that no longer shares time with South Korea."

"It's easy to go into the country feeling certain about what is right and what is wrong," reckons Taylor.

I feel it's also unfair for me to pass judgment on what their life may be like. It's a different world with a different framework.

"When all that melts away, and you are able to see the substance in the humanity, it's amazing."

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